Using Attribution Theory to Explain the Bases of Public Support Toward the Death Penalty for Juveniles, the Mentally Ill, and the Mentally Retarded

Denise Paquette Boots, University of South Florida
John K. Cochran, University of South Florida
Kathleen M. Heide, University of South Florida

Previous research on the death penalty typically assesses public support for capital punishment while ignoring the relevance of various offender, victim, and offense characteristics which capital juries are required to consider. As such, public opinion research on capital punishment is greatly and unnecessarily abstracted from reality. Therefore, the present study utilizes attribution theory, a leading theoretical rubric exploring the lay perspectives on the causes of crime, to explain respondents' support levels toward the death penalty for juveniles, the mentally ill, and the mentally retarded via the administration of a quasi-experimental factorial survey to 697 subject called for jury service in Hillsborough County, Florida. Ordinary Least Squares and logistic regression models are employed to estimate the effects of respondents' socio-demographic characteristics, vignette characteristics, and variables derived from attribution theory on the level of death penalty support. The substantive, theoretical, methodological, and policy implications of the studey are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006